Two Poems

by Pauletta Hansel


I don’t mean to be ungrateful.
I was bred for wanting more, the way
a racehorse is bred for the win’s scent.
Those impossible legs like winged twigs
that will snap in a high wind.
What moves us onward is the same,
sometimes, as what breaks us to the ground.
Here’s a story about my grandfather
that I don’t like to tell,
how he found a WWII deserter’s bundle
tucked inside a cave,
how he kept the money, then turned the guy in
for a $15 reward.
I’m not saying our people weren’t hungry.
We were always hungry.
I’m not saying who my grandfather was,
is who I am.
What my mother wanted
was to be far away
from where she started.
What my father wanted
was to begin again.
I’m telling you
the hardest thing
I’ve ever had to do
is to stop wanting
what I already have.   


The old sycamore
overhanging the pond—
how the light on its large, unlovely leaves,
mottled lace by late summer,
reflects not from above
but below,
their undersides glowing
with sun mirrored upwards.
How, for an hour or two in the morning,
there is this geometric miracle
witnessed only by me
and anyone else who walks the gravel road
from the retreat center to this lake
named Mary for her statue in the middle,
where I sit, year after year,
trying to find a poem.
There was the year
I stomped the perimeter
trailing a chain of tobacco smoke and fury,
the year of gratitude, too many years
of tears, the year I let go.
Sometimes I think
I am the only thing that changes here.
Then I remember, two summers or more,
Mary lay with the fish at the bottom of her pond, 
only to rise again,
aided by what complicated contraption
no one ever said. Soon,
I’ll rise too,
on my still sturdy legs,
no closer to knowing light’s trajectory,
no further away.

PAULETTA HANSEL’S seven poetry collections include Coal Town Photograph and Palindrome, winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for Appalachian Poetry. Her writing has been featured in Rattle, Still: The Journal, The New Verse News, The Writer’s Almanac, American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily, and Poetry Daily. Pauletta was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate (2016- 2018). She is managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary journal of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative.

Photo: “Lake Mary” by Michael Levine-Clark

4 thoughts on “Two Poems”

  1. I have walked the gravel road to Mary’s Lake.
    I grew up in the near shadow of a crusty barked Sycamore.
    Thank you for stirring memories.

  2. I’m finding it hard to move on from “stop wanting what I already have” this morning, a gift. Thank you.

  3. “Reflection” gives me Mary Oliver vibes in the best way. Thank you for the lovely meditation

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